Rhine Estuary-Drechtsteden

The Rhine Estuary-Drechtsteden region is a densely populated area of immense economic significance to the Netherlands. It is an area of extremes: with port activities, urban areas, the Greenports (horticulture), and the Biesbosch nature reserve.

In this region – around Rotterdam and Dordrecht – water comes from two directions: the sea and the rivers. Economic and spatial development in the Rhine Estuary-Drechtsteden region is only possible if its flood protection and its freshwater supply are up to par, in the short and long term. The Rhine Estuary-Drechtsteden region has drawn up a preferential strategy to that effect. The region has been working on the implementation of this strategy since 2014, within the framework set out by the Delta Decisions.

Rotterdam Wilhelminakade


A number of dyke sections in the Rhine Estuary-Drechtsteden area do not meet the current standards. In addition, a higher protection level has been agreed upon for most of the dykes, because of the increase in population and economic value behind the dykes. Furthermore, near dyke sections that are constructed on peat, subsidence causes additional tasking in terms of safety. In the Rhine-Estuary-Drechtsteden region, the flood risk management tasking is focused on the area around Rotterdam, the Krimpenerwaard, Alblasserwaard-Vijfheerenlanden, the Eiland van Dordrecht, and Voorne-Putten. Climate change will result in longer periods of drought, which will put additional pressure on the freshwater supply in the area. Finally, the region is faced with a spatial adaptation tasking, inter alia, in the areas outside the dykes.

Preferential strategy for flood risk management

As the elevation of the Rhine Estuary-Drechtsteden region is quite low, most areas will be submersed very quickly and to a substantial depth in the event of a flood. Flood prevention is therefore of great importance. This can be achieved by consistently choosing the best combination of three types of preventive measures: storm surge barriers, dykes, and river widening.

The Hollandsche IJssel remains an open river which can be closed off by a storm surge barrier. This provides the best opportunities for flood risk management, shipping, and the tidal ecology. A broad-based study will be conducted into the replacement of the Maeslant storm surge barrier in the Nieuwe Waterweg. One of the alternative solutions to be explored, along with replacing the storm surge barriers, involves the introduction of sea locks. This study is expected to commence around 2040. The Delta Programme monitors new insights in the fields of climate change, flood risk management, and freshwater supply; if need be, the study will be launched at an earlier date. In addition to limiting the flood risk, water-resilient spatial design adaptations are also being prepared. Disaster management requires additional attention in order to protect, inter alia, the power grid and high-risk businesses in the event that things go wrong nonetheless in this complex and densely populated area.

A special feature of the Rhine Estuary-Drechtsteden region is the long stretches of areas outside the dykes which are densely populated and offer many employment opportunities. These areas are not protected by the dykes. The region will devote additional attention to measures aimed at limiting loss as well as communication regarding the risks run by the residents.

Typical of the approach adopted in this region is that water issues and spatial development are considered in an inter-connected manner.

Preferential strategy for freshwater supply

For its freshwater supply, the western part of the Netherlands is dependent on a limited number of locations where freshwater from the rivers is let in (inlet points). The main inlet points are those near Gouda and Bernisse. In the future, these inlet points will become less reliable, because the water is increasingly salinising. At the same time, demand for fresh water is likely to increase. The freshwater supply to the western Netherlands will remain up to par by gradually expanding the emergency supply from the Waal and the Amsterdam-Rijn canal. The freshwater supply from the Brielse Meer lake will gradually become more resilient: its management will be optimised in the near future. In addition, an improved monitoring system will be introduced, and near Spijkenisse an additional water inlet will be put into operation. The water manager will implement “smart water management” to reduce salinisation in the Hollandsche IJssel, the Amsterdam-Rijn canal, the Noordzee canal, and near the Hagestein weir. In addition, consumers need to economise in their use of water by capitalising on innovations.

Spatial adaptation

Various climate-proofing collaborations have been set up in the Rhine Estuary-Drechtsteden region, such as the Strategic Adaptation Agenda project for the areas outside the dykes, the Spatial Adaptation City Deal, and the Agniesebuurt/Zomerhofkwartier testing ground impact project (second phase).

In the Agniesebuurt/Zomerhofkwartier testing ground, the city of Rotterdam, the Schieland en de Krimpenerwaard District Water Control Board, residents and entrepreneurs are jointly working on innovative plans for urban water management. In the Agniesebuurt district, several innovations have already been implemented with the construction of the water plaza and various rain gardens.

In 2017, additional efforts have been initiated and several projects have already been completed in the context of climate-proofing the entire Agniesebuurt area. Rainwater storage underneath the streets rather than discharging rainwater into the sewer system ensures that the neighbourhood is prepared for the future.

Implementation agenda

One of the components of the preferential strategy for flood risk management is an implementation agenda. Some of the measures scheduled for 2015/2016 are listed below.

  • Alblasserwaard-Vijfheerenlanden study
    The parties involved in this study are exploring smart ways of combining spatial and economic development with raising and improving the dykes. The focus is on the southern outskirts of the Alblasserwaard.
  • Eiland van Dordrecht study
    The Delta Decision on Flood Risk Management offers the option, in very special cases, of achieving flood protection by way of a “smart combination” of dykes, adaptation of the spatial design and additional attention to disaster management. The Eiland van Dordrecht is one of the locations for which such a smart combination might be attractive.
  • Spatial Dyke Improvement Tools Pilot
    The Spatial Dyke Improvement Tools pilot has investigated whether the existing spatial and financial tools enable spatial reservations for future-proof dyke improvements. The conclusion is that the spatial tools are up to par, yet especially effective if implemented on the basis of a collective regional vision.
  • Strategic adaptation agenda for the area outside the dykes
    The Rhine Estuary-Drechtsteden region features four areas outside the dykes that are faced with complex flood risk management issues and costly solutions: Botlek, the Dordrecht historic port area, Noordereiland and Merwe-Vierhavens. In these areas, pilot projects have provided insight into their vulnerability and potential solutions. Based on the experience gained in these projects, the municipal authorities of Rotterdam will draw up a Strategic Adaptation Agenda, in concert with the stakeholders, for the area outside the dykes.
  • Case study into disaster management
    The Rotterdam-Rhine Estuary Security Region has conducted a case study to substantiate improvements in flood disaster management.
  • Maeslant storm surge barrier
    The Maeslant storm surge barrier plays a key role in protecting the area from flooding. The study explores how flood protection can be enhanced by improving the operation of the Maeslant storm surge barrier.
  • Geuzenlinie
    The Geuzenlinie project is aimed at combining recreational activities, traffic, and a (specific) demand for work space with water storage. In early 2017, the municipalities of Brielle, Hellevoetsluis, Nissewaard, and Westvoorne embarked on the Geuzenlinie Regional Programme at the northern rim of the island of Voorne-Putten.
  • Hollandsche IJssel integrated approach
    With respect to the Hollandsche IJssel, the parties involved envisage an integrated approach, considering the aggregate system (flood defence, forelands and dykes). Linkage opportunities are also being reviewed, such as improving the accessibility of the Krimpenerwaard.
  • River as a tidal park
    The project focuses on softening and greening the – currently usually stony – embankments. Using natural processes is beneficial to nature development and recreation, and improves flood protection at a number of locations.
  • Rhine-Meuse estuary study
    At the request of the House of Representatives (Geurts motion), an additional study has been conducted into closing the Rhine-Meuse estuary on the seaward side, as a long-term option, involving locks in the Oude Maas and Nieuwe Maas, in combination with peak water storage in the Oosterschelde. The conclusion is that this is a fully-fledged alternative, to be explored in the context of the study into replacement of the Maeslant storm surge barrier (which is expected to commence in 2040). The Delta Programme monitors new insights relating to climate change, flood risk management, and freshwater supply; if need be, the study will commence at an earlier date.

In addition to the above projects and studies, detailed ambitions were formulated in 2016/17 regarding the topics of Water & Spatial Planning, Storm surge barriers, Areas outside the dykes, Spatial adaptation, Disaster management, and Adaptive delta management. Each ambition is substantiated by one of the stakeholders in the area, in collaboration with the other stakeholders. For each ambition, an action plan has been set down, listing the efforts in more concrete terms.

In 2016, European Interreg grants were awarded to two pilots in the Rhine Estuary-Drechtsteden region. The grants were provided under European multi-layer flood risk management (FRAMES) and climate adaptation (BEGIN) programmes, in which the province of Zuid-Holland and the municipality of Dordrecht, respectively, are participating.


Delta Programme 2018

To view the progress made in this area, click here: Rhine Estuary-Drechtsteden in Delta Programme 2018.